In The Flesh | Books & Authors | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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In The Flesh 

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 4:03 pm

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Powell talks fast, often using her hands; sometimes her fingertips seem to be tapping a text message onto the table. Hints of her native Texas still pepper her speech—when asked how many interviews she’s done, she drawls, “Oh, sweet God. Dozens and dozens and dozens.”

Topping the list of questions she never wants to be asked again: What was your favorite Julia Child recipe? (If you must know, in the LA Daily News she picked Bifteck Sauce Berce With Shallot and White Wine Sauce. And no, she never did meet Julia Child.)

Powell did meet Nora Ephron, the movie’s writer and director. “She had my whole blog printed out on pink paper,” she laughs. “That’s so Nora. She’s this ferocious woman—all sharp edges, very, very smart in a very particular way, with a very particular worldview. So of course she goes and makes it into a Nora Ephron movie.”

This included casting the role of Julie Powell. “Amy Adams is completely adorable, and she makes perfect sense in Nora’s movie,” says Powell, who has elsewhere described the actress as “completely un-me like.” She imagined someone “more neurotic, weightier. Before casting became a reality, I used to say Kate Winslet. She’s a good cusser, a little earthier—she looks like she might actually enjoy eating butter.”

In one of Powell’s blogs for the website Double X, titled “What ‘Julie & Julia’ Butchered,” she deftly displaces her frustrations to the movie’s miscasting of her beloved cat, concluding, “It is my role now to be the good author, to be meek and sweet and endlessly accepting of harsh words and misinterpretations, no matter how much I might want to scream, in weaker moments, ‘But that’s not ME!’ Er, I meant, ‘That’s not my cat.’”

Meek and sweet Julie Powell is not. Her blog is now called “What Could Happen? Musings from a ‘Soiled and Narcissistic Whore.’” This is one of the gentler epithets that’s been thrown at Powell since she revealed her extramarital affair in Cleaving. The backlash against her became so intense that fellow food-blogger Jennie Yabroff published a Newsweek piece titled “Stop Hating Julie Powell, Please.”

“People have very strong reactions and feelings about this book,” Powell says. “I was really surprised by how intensely people reacted to adultery and infidelity by a woman. It’s a really visceral reaction. To me, it’s not that shocking—nothing Philip Roth didn’t write about 40 years ago. But the things people say about me, to me, online.” She shakes her head, speechless for the first time. “There’s a code of adultery. It’s acceptable if your partner is cruel, or not giving you something you need. But this was because I had a relationship with this other man, not because Eric was lacking in some way.”

Some readers find it hard to sympathize with a woman juggling a generous, supportive husband and an irresistible bad-boy lover, griping that Powell wants to have her steak and eat it too. Others find her too unfiltered. “I’m often accused of the TMI thing,” she concurs. “But memoirists are memoirists because writing through their experience is a vital piece of processing. I was in the middle of this insane, crazy thing—I wouldn’t have gotten through it without writing.”

Writing memoir is often a road to self-knowledge, and Powell is one of many celebrated memoirists slated to appear at the Woodstock Writers Festival, February 12-15 ( Susan Orlean, whose wild ride from book (The Orchid Thief) to Meryl Streep movie (Adaptation) makes Ephron’s transgressions look pale, will appear Friday night. Saturday’s headliner is best-selling writer (Not Becoming My Mother) and PBS star Ruth Reichl.

“Love, food, and literature form the succulent base for this ‘moveable feast,’” says Literary Director Laura Shaine Cunningham, one of the festival’s founders. Executive Director Martha Frankel adds, “We’re hoping Julie will be as uncensored in person as she is in print.” Powell will read, sign books, and “give great Q&A” at the Bearsville Theater on Sunday, February 14 at 8pm. “The lineup of writers is awesome,” she says. “I can’t wait.”

Powell and her husband own a country house in Olivebridge, but lately they’ve been trapped in Queens by a series of pet health crises. Their brood includes three cats (one 17, with kidney disease), a 110-pound dog (lame), and a five-foot ball python named Zuzu Marlene, who’s been with Powell since 1993. “We’re a decrepit bunch,” Powell admits. She and Eric are currently seeing a couples therapist. “It’s not all tied up with a bow, but we’re committed to working on it,” she reports. They’re learning to compromise—despite his reticence, Eric agreed to be taped at home for an Oprah segment, but not to appear live on the show.

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